Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Parenting Playbook

My youngest daughter thinks I'm unreasonable about her bedtime, and of course 
she may be right. I'm closing in on my 10,000th day as a parent, and with all the extra practice from all the extra kids, I have a playbook I stick to pretty closely.  
I can't have long debates over bedtimes for 10,000 nights, I'd lose my mind. So I become rigid about some things because I think they're right or they're effective, and I won't debate them. They become a kind of parental operating manual that my husband I mostly share, though we have our own styles. Here are some of my go-to's over the years: 

  • If you're sarcastic, I'll stop talking to you until you're merely sullen. If you're polite I'm going to beam at you like endless sunshine and bathe you in attention.
  • If you're late for curfew, you'll get locked out and have to knock and face your father. He won't be happy.
  • If you're on time for curfew, you have to knock and come into our room. Our light is on low until everyone is home. You have to talk to us until we say good night. This is not a one-word conversation. 
  • You have a brother or sister, or two to share your room. You have to find a way to share and get along. We're not going to broker many peace deals because you're always going to be living with other people in life. You have to practice.
  • If you bully any of your siblings, hell will rain down on you in the form of innumerable chores you need to do in their stead and kindness reparations that can be grueling.
  • If you're crying or whining or nasty in public, we'll leave. I won't be happy. You'll have to find a way to make it up to me. Until then things will be tense between us, and there may be grounding. It depends on how bad you were. 
  • We're in charge of your religion until you're sixteen. Conveniently, this is just past the age of Confirmation. 
  • Mistakes are constant, and natural, for all of us. The thing is to recognize
    them, and do something different next time. That might be a mistake too, but eventually you'll get to the right place. If you don't recognize a mistake, or learn from it, I'll tell you. If I make a mistake and you were right, I'll tell you that too. 
  • Driving is expensive and can be dangerous. We're not going to help you get a license or let you borrow a car until we're impressed with your judgment and decision-making skills. This can vary between the ages of 16 and never. (Similar rules exist for cellphones and computers). 
  • Chores are a given, and unpaid, just like mine. If you screw them up, you'll have to do them over but that's your choice. There are some extra jobs, including babysitting, that you can get paid for. A good attitude will help you get these jobs if you want them. 
  • If you put in the effort of being on a team, I'll put in the effort of going to every game. With pleasure, no matter how I have to rearrange things at work. Ditto for awards ceremonies, recitals, concerts and art shows, and then we'll get ice cream because you make me so proud. 
  • I'm going to have opinions on your classes/colleges/relationships/jobs because I know you, and I know stuff. I'm going to try to convince you to do things that I think are best for you, and you pretty much have to hear me out. That's all, just listen. Then I'll help you when you choose something else. 
  • Once you finish school, you need to get a job and move out into the world. There may be extenuating circumstances that keep you home, but if so you still need to be working and contributing to the household as an adult. 

There are more, but the point is that the more kids you have, the more chances you have to find the "parent plays" that fit your personality, your family, and most of all that work. If you're lucky, they also make you laugh. On long car trips, driving alone with a car full of kids can be a nightmare. Having an SUV  that fit nine of us was a decidedly mixed blessing. So there was always the promise of McDonald's. Always. And the kids who were good on the ride got Happy Meals. The rest got a hamburger (no cheese) and a milk. 
from the root

The Sad Meal.

We have a home version too (peanut butter sandwich, no jelly, and milk) for kids sent to bed early.  There's a lot of chuckling from the older kids when they see it threatened, but I'm sure they'll use it themselves when they're parents. There's a culture and camaraderie to growing up in a big family that I don't even fully understand, because the family I grew up in was small. Knowing that most of the experiences you had as a child are shared with this whole group of people is kind of cool. 

Including having a Mom who rolls her eyes and defers to her rulebook every time you have a complaint. 

As to the rigidity part of all this, I think it's more like a parental routine, and I'm not that bad overall. I took a quiz to check ;) (see below). My rules have built-in wiggle room. If there's a big game on and you're into it, you can stay up to see who wins. But a movie? That can be recorded and watched the next afternoon, hit the sack.

It's gotten to the point that when faced with a tough situation regarding one of our kids, the first thing my husband and I ask ourselves is "what did we do last time?" and then "how did that work out?" Like coaches who don't get too riled by a few bad plays and are always fine-tuning the game plan to try to keep the team ahead. We still want to win, and for our kids to have great lives, but we're not going to get there by throwing out everything we've learned. So bedtime is 9:00 on school nights in middle school, 10:00 in high school, lights out 30 minutes later. 

Of course she is our only child at home in school now, so might be occasionally lax in rule enforcement ;). 

Love, Lisa

What's Your Parenting Style?


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